True to her whimsical personality, the Monsoon rain acted like a playful mistress that day. She showed no signs of affection when Prabhat stuck his head out of the window in anticipation of her arrival, several times throughout the day, but made an appearance at the most inopportune moment when he had just stepped out of the house with baggage in tow. There was no time to change; he would miss his train if he wasted even one second in wiping off the muddy droplets that the weather goddess had showered upon him. He continued onward in his stained cotton shirt, ashamed that the evidence of his love affair with nature had been exposed to the world. He wasn’t too flustered by this small mishap though because his mind was preoccupied with the thoughts of the journey he was about to embark on. After all, these amorous flings were nothing compared to the one true love that he had nurtured in his heart since adolescence.
The railway station was the usual cacophony of hawkers selling stale Samosas, sweaty travellers arguing with the Ticket Inspectors, and indiscernible announcements made by a sleepy voice over a malfunctioning microphone. The rain had stopped but its moistness had exaggerated the humidity of the atmosphere and the stink of the rotting banana peels that had chosen one corner of the platform to die a slow death. A sharp fragrance of jasmine and lavender suddenly pierced through the acidic stench. It was a familiar scent from Prabhat’s youth, Shraddha’s favourite perfume that would fill his lungs each time he lovingly pulled her closer to his chest. Should he dare turn around and steal a glance?
It was her indeed, she looked more mature and subdued but her beauty had not diminished in the least. After all this time, her soft brown curls still danced around in the breeze and her almond eyes still scanned her surroundings with a childlike curiosity. They fell upon him before he could shy away. The awkward eye contact made it mandatory for the high-school sweethearts to acknowledge the encounter. She immediately became conscious but her attempt to hide the scar on her forehead was quite futile. Not only did it draw Prabhat’s attention to the raw, pink skin but also to the henna patterns and red bangles that adorned her wrists, the ornaments of an Indian bride.
His feet shuffled backwards involuntarily. The news of the wedding came as a shock to him. Ever since they had parted ways, he had been keeping tabs on her, waiting for the right moment to carve his way back into her life. A mutual friend had informed him that she was planning to move to Kolkata, which is why he had quit his job, packed his entire life into a suitcase, and purchased a train ticket to the land of the Hooghly River. Had he known that she now had a husband by her side, he would have been more hesitant in taking this leap of faith.
Several questions crawled up to the tip of his tongue but struggled to escape his lips. He wanted to inquire what had gone wrong, how he had faltered and made her fall out of love with him. What sin committed by him was so unforgivable that she decided to replace him with another man? The only words that he managed to mutter were a feeble “Congratulations” and a meek “Good Luck”.
His train was fast approaching, the sound of the whistle was his cue to rush towards the steel dragon that ran on steam but was fuelled by the dreams and aspirations of the travellers that occupied its bogies. Since all his hopes were shattered, he no longer deserved to board the train. He jumped onto the tracks instead, that trembled due to the fury of the engine. Over the rumbling sound of the locomotive and the crunching of his bones under the wheels, he heard her scream his name, one last time. Her voice had the tinge of regret that he had been waiting for all these years.